Thu, 20 Nov 2003

Business as usual for ticket scalpers

Tony Hotland, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Sendi, 29, jumps off his seat and approaches a would-be passenger at the Gambir train station, Central Jakarta. He speaks gently, "Looking for tickets? Where are you going? Semarang, Surabaya? I've got plenty".

"I've been a ticket scalper for around a year since I got fired from a restaurant. I have many friends who happen to be ticket scalpers here. So they helped me become one," Sendi told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday.

The father of two admitted that being a ticket scalper did not pay much. "I'm unemployed and broke. I'm just trying to pay the bills and the family's needs, especially for my one-month-old baby," he said.

Sendi sells tickets 50 to 100 percent higher than the official prices.

"I have earned Rp 200,000 (US$23.52) in profit this month. I had to pay joki (people helping scalpers by queuing) Rp 50,000 each and extra money to security guards," he said, saying that the guards were also scalpers too.

"I can't really tell you if there are any insiders helping scalpers. But the security guards are definitely my good friends," he said smiling.

Sendi said there were numerous ticket scalpers in Gambir.

"Maybe there are more scalpers than passengers," Sendi said, without providing a specific figure. "The competition is quite stiff here but they're my friends. It's just a matter of luck and healthy competition."

The new online system of train ticket reservation, which started operating in November, allows would-be passengers to obtain tickets from seven train stations in Jakarta and its surrounding areas 30 days before departure. Previously, tickets could only be reserved at Juanda rail station, Central Jakarta, seven days before departure.

For scalpers this means a waiting period before they can resell their tickets. "I don't know. Some of my friends said the new system made their money stay idle longer. It also produces longer uncertainty about the tickets getting sold," said Sendi.

Sendi purchased eight tickets on Nov. 2 with the help of three joki, to avoid the policy whereby people who buy four tickets will only be issued one ticket paper. This is intended to deter ticket scalpers as it makes reselling the tickets complicated.

Asked whether he was afraid of being caught, especially with state-run train operator PT KAI offering a Rp 200,000 reward to anyone who manages to catch scalpers, Sendi drew a deep breath.

"I don't know. I can run or whatever. But my friends told me to be cautious with the ones I offer tickets to. I don't offer tickets to just anyone now," he said.

The Gambir train station displays banners saying "Free of ticket scalpers area" and additional security guards have been deployed within the station and also, its immediate vicinity. But these measures seem to be having little effect.

Head of the station, Besar Susmiarto, admitted that it was impossible to combat ticket scalpers.

"They've been around for a long time. What I can do is limit their working area and put them in order. They can't blatantly sell tickets near the counters now.

"We also have to understand the relationships between them and the security guards. They're most likely friends," he told the Post.